Policing has changed a lot over the years. As technology advances, law enforcement embraces new resources to better assist in protecting the public. In recent years, public safety has adopted drone technology, is testing out risk assessment algorithms, and managing officer schedules with software that ensures they are not overworked.
Check out our blog for posts on each of these technologies.
Now, there is a new technology out there that is making big waves. ShotSpotter is being adopted rapidly within police departments across the US. Both Forbes and the Washington Post have written articles on the innovative company and technology.
What is ShotSpotter?
ShotSpotter defines itself as software that “provides precision-policing solutions for law enforcement to deter gun violence and makes cities, campuses and facilities safer.” How exactly does it do this? The technology uses acoustic sensors that are placed around a city to detect ballistic sounds. There are approximately 20 sensors placed per square mile, and GPS tracks the exact location of the bullet sound. The wireless connection alerts the application of the incident, which is further verified by expertly trained acoustic analysts working 24/7 at the ShotSpotter Review Center. The analysts confirm that the sound is gunfire before alerting the police. This entire process typically takes 45 seconds. Alerts can be sent to dispatch centers, patrol cars, smartphones, and tablets.
ShotSpotter relays information to police about:
- Exact coordinates of the location in the form of latitude & longitude & the address.
- The number of bullets fired
- Type of gunfire
- If the shooter is on the move
Who is using it?
Currently, over 85 cities in the US and one city in South Africa are using this technology. Many cities love the program and are not shy to share with the media their adoption of this new tool. A Forbes article on SpotShotter quoted Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer that the technology stopped an active shooter from killing more people. Police Chief Christopher Fletcher, who took over Calumet City, saw how effective SpotShotter was when he worked for the Chicago Police Department. As soon as he transferred, he began working on plans to bring SpotShotter to Calumet. Fletcher stated he believed the SpotShotter technology helped keep gun violence down.
For all the positive statements, there has been some negative publicity for SpotShotter as well. People have voiced concerns that the acoustic sensors around the city are a violation of public privacy. SpotShotter adamantly defends itself against these accusations and says that their sensors do not listen to conversations, only track gunshot sounds. However, this reassurance is not enough for a lot of people. In February 2019, the city of Toronto announced that after months of considering SpotShotter as the solution to their gun violence problem, they would be reversing the decision. There was enough pushback that the city had chosen to find another solution for their gun violence problem.
SpotShotter itself addresses concerns about their performance on their site. In a FAQ document, SpotShotter discusses the claim that they have ‘failed in a few cities.’ The company states that “there has never been a single city where SpotShotter did not technically work” in its function to detect, locate and alert on gunfire. The company states, if the technology did not work in a city, it is because the city did not implement best practices to ensure success.
The following are factors that can cause the technology to fail in a city:
- The area of deployment is too small to have a meaningful impact
- The police department’s failure to respond to gunshot alerts
- The police department’s failure to respond to the exact location of the alert
- Not integrating SpotShotter data with the outstanding gunfire intelligence programs
- Lack of community engagement
Lastly, the cost could be considered a deterrent for many police departments, especially small agencies. The technology is an annual subscription that costs “between $65,000 to $85,000 per square mile per year.” For small cities, this can mean $200,000 annually. Large cities such as Chicago cost approximately $5 million annually.
Results with SpotShotter speak for themselves. Rochester, NY reported a 40% decrease in gunshot incidents. Camden County, NJ reported a 46% decrease in shooting homicides. And Denver, CO made 102 arrests with the help of SpotShotter. These are just a few of the many statistics available on the SpotShotter website.
A recurring concern with new law enforcement technologies is public privacy. Citizens are concerned that the use of technologies such as drones and facial recognition software give police the ability to spy on the public. SpotShotter technology now falls into this category as well. However, public safety agencies are in place for just that: to keep the public safe. Police use new technology to protect their communities and to catch criminals.
SpotShotter has proven results. If a form of technology can reduce gun violence in your local community, why not let the police take advantage of it?
Before considering SpotShotter, an agency should ensure that they have both the budget and community approval. With it already implemented in over 85 cities, we envision SpotShotter will continue to grow in popularity. It often garners mentions on popular crime shows. Check out the clip below!